Iran nuclear deal reaction split along party lines in US

US President Barack Obama, flanked by vice president Joe Biden, delivers a statement after the nuclear deal was reached ...
REUTERS

US President Barack Obama, flanked by vice president Joe Biden, delivers a statement after the nuclear deal was reached between Iran and six major world powers.

President Barack Obama heralded a historic nuclear agreement with Iran on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ Time) as an opportunity for the longtime foes to move in a "new direction," while sharply warning the US Congress that it would be irresponsible to block the accord.

"No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East," Obama said in remarks from the White House.

Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, spoke shortly after negotiators in Vienna announced the landmark deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear programme for more than a decade in exchange for billions of dollars in international sanctions relief. The president said the agreement, hammered out through nearly two years of negotiations, would cut off all of Iran's pathways to a bomb and give the international community unprecedented access to the country's nuclear facilities.

"This deal is not built on trust," Obama said. "It is built on verification."

However, the leader of the US House of Representatives has warned the White House that if Republicans don't think the newly announced nuclear deal with Iran is a good one, they will block it.

Speaker John Boehner told reporters that if the agreement is as bad as he thinks it is right now, then Republicans will do everything they can to stop its implementation. Obama said he'll veto any attempt by Congress to undo the deal.

For Obama, the accord marks the fulfillment of one of his top foreign policy goals and will be cast by the White House as a validation of the president's focus on seeking resolutions through diplomacy. The president staked enormous political capital on the diplomatic pursuit with Iran, deeply straining relations with Israel and sparking outrage from some congressional lawmakers.

It will likely be well after Obama has left the White House before it is known whether the deal succeeds in preventing Iran from building a bomb. Critics say Iran cannot be trusted even with the lower levels of nuclear technology it will be allowed to retain under the terms of the agreement.

With the deal between the world powers now finalised, Congress has 60 days to assess the accord and decide whether to pursue legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran or prevent Obama from suspending existing ones. Obama called congressional leaders on Monday night to alert them that a deal was at hand.

In his remarks, the president renewed his vow to veto any such legislation and urged lawmakers to consider the repercussions of their actions. He painted a grim scenario in which the rest of the world struck its own nuclear deals with Iran, leaving the US isolated. And without the limitations and verifications included in the deal announced on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), Obama said he or a future US president would be more likely to face a decision about using US military action to prevent Iran from building a bomb.

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In addition to his calls with congressional lawmakers, administration officials said Obama was likely to speak on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia's King Salman, and European leaders.

Obama acknowledged that the US and Iran remain at odds over many issues, including Tehran's support for terrorism in the Middle East and its detention of several American citizens. Still, he suggested a breakthrough on the nuclear issue could pave the way for a broader shift in relations between the US and Iran.

"This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction," Obama said. "We should seize it."

CANDIDATES REACT

US Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) roundly condemned Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio suggesting he would re-introduce sanctions if elected to the White House next year.

The agreement reached between Iran and six major world powers will now be debated in the US Congress, but Obama said on Tuesday he would veto any measure to block it.

"It will then be left to the next president to return us to a position of American strength and re-impose sanctions on this despicable regime until it is truly willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions and is no longer a threat to international security," said Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Rubio urged the Republican-led Congress to reject the deal, but Obama would likely be able to use his veto, which can only be overridden by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses.

Under the accord, sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations will be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West and Israel have suspected is aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.

"Based on what we know thus far, I believe that this deal undermines our national security," Rubio said.

Rubio urged the Republican-led Congress to reject the deal, but Obama would likely be able to use his veto, which can only be overridden by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses.

Under the accord, sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations will be lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on a nuclear programme that the West and Israel have suspected is aimed at creating a nuclear bomb. Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who leads many polls of Republicans seeking the presidential nomination, criticized what he called a "dangerous, deeply flawed and short-sighted deal."

"The people of Iran, the region, Israel, America and the world deserve better than a deal that consolidates the grip on power of the violent revolutionary clerics who rule Tehran with an iron fist," Bush said in a statement.

He did not say whether he would try to roll back the deal if he is elected to the White House.

Other Republican hopefuls for the November, 2016 presidential election lined up to denounce the accord.

"Undoing the damage caused by this deal won't be easy," said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who announced his presidential bid on Monday at an event in Wisconsin attended by an American once held hostage by Iran.

"But when the United States leads, and has a president who isn't eager to embrace Iran, the world will follow. In order to ensure the safety of America and our allies, the next president must restore bipartisan and international opposition to Iran's nuclear program while standing with our allies to roll back Iran's destructive influence across the Middle East."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a conservative, vowed to back Israel, and did not rule out using force against Tehran.

"As president, I will stand with Israel and keep all options on the table, including military force, to topple the terrorist Iranian regime," he said on Twitter.

Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina, called it a terrible deal that would make matters worse. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, another candidate, said the administration had capitulated to Iran.

Meanwhile, US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the new deal with Iran an "important moment" and said based on what she knows now it is a step toward curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I think this is an important step that puts the lid on Iran's nuclear programs," the former US secretary of state said. Clinton, speaking at the US Capitol after meeting with House of Representatives Democrats, also said the deal would allow the United States to turn its attention to preventing what it sees as other bad actions by Iran.

- AP, Reuters

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